Identity Theft Myths: Identity theft is a high-tech crime

What springs to mind when you hear the words “identity theft?”

Be honest, now.

For a lot of people, the first thing they think of is their home computer. Because of the constant emphasis on computer security (and a few made-for-TV movies, I don’t doubt), many people are under the impression that your identity gets stolen because you were on the Internet and a hacker broke into your computer and got your personal information.

Of course, hackers exist. What used to be the demesne of nerdy college kids and spoiled brats with powerful computers and too much unsupervised time has become an important tool for organized crime.

However, not all identity theft occurs online. You don’t have all your credit card numbers, account numbers, passwords, Social Security number and other information stored on your computer anyway, do you?

Do you?

Tell me you don’t.

Anyway, a huge chunk of identity theft occurs through very un-high-tech channels. Your purse or wallet get stolen, and you were carrying your Social Security card with you. That’s an open door.

Or you received a load of credit card offers in the mail and simply tore the envelopes in two (or not at all) and threw them in the trash. That night, somebody picked through your garbage and found it. It’s the dark side of Dumpster Diving—what used to be a fun way to drive around college towns in June and score free microwave ovens is now a common route for identity theft.

If picking through garbage isn’t gross enough for you, there’s this little factoid: between 10 and 25% of identity theft victims knew the person who stole their identity. That’s your friends and coworkers. It could even be your family members.

The wide range in this percentage seems to depend on who is doing the research. You see both numbers in different reports, but there may be an age-related factor: younger people tend to know the person who stole their identity more often (as many as 40% of people under 30, according to some data I’ve seen). The point is, a lot of identity theft happens because somebody left their purse unattended at work.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can ignore online safety. Keep your virus/spyware protection updated and don’t fall for those phishing attempts (which I know you won’t because you’ve been reading the FPU, right?). But look at the low-tech ways you might be making yourself vulnerable. Get a crosscut shredder today if you don’t already have one, and get that Social Security card out of your wallet, already.